How to Have a More Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving Excess is a key element of Thanksgiving for many people. While you prepare to heap the tables high with food, consider these tips to make the holiday a little gentler on the environment.

How to Have a More Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a view of the ongoing writers' strike from a Studio City delicatessen.

BRAND: But forget corned beef and pastrami for a second and consider turkey. Some people are wondering how to make it and all the trimmings greener this Thanksgiving.

Here's DAY TO DAY's Alex Cohen.


At a Whole Foods supermarket in Los Angeles, shoppers have been busy stocking up on pre-made pumpkin pies and boxes of stuffing mix.

Mr. DAVID STEPHEN-LANE (Whole Foods Team Leader): We have organic and locally grown yams, potatoes, onions - you name it.

COHEN: Store team leader David Stephen-Lane stands in the produce section. Above him are colorful posters encouraging shoppers to buy locally grown products.

Mr. STEPHEN-LANE: Local is a better option because, one, you're helping the actual farmer and in their community to keep going in their business. Also, you know, the amount of time it takes to transport the produce to the stores is cut drastically.

COHEN: He says buying locally grown food can cut down on the emissions caused by big trucks. As for the main course, there are also plenty of options, including organic turkeys. But if you really want to make it a sustainable Thanksgiving, you may want to pass on a grain-fed bird. Turkey feed, even if it's organic, still needs to be trucked in, says Jo Robinson, founder of the Web site So what does she recommend?

Ms. JO ROBINSON ( The best bird, really the Prius of whole bird flock, is a pastured turkey. And this is a turkey that gets a significant amount of its food from grass and bugs.

COHEN: Robinson says turkeys raised in open pastures as opposed to cramped factory pens are excellent at recycling because their manure can be used to help grow the grasses they eat. She adds that pasture-fed birds are healthier, tastier, but they can also be pricier. Some sell for as much as $6 a pound, and that is a whole lot more than your average butterball.

Ms. ROBINSON: Turkeys are the very cheapest meat possible in the United States. Right now you might find it at 69 cents a pound. My supermarket is giving a turkey away free if you spend $100, which you can easily do on a Thanksgiving dinner.

COHEN: Besides the economic incentives to opt for the non-green choice, many people are just reluctant to break holiday tradition, says the Nature Conservancy's lead scientist M. Sanjayan.

Mr. M. SANJAYAN (Nature Conservancy): Most Americans sort of go through this sort of Pavlovian response when it comes to Thanksgiving.

COHEN: That's why it may be hard to sell them on serving foods that aren't local or native. Not everyone is ready to do what Sanjayan will do at his home in Missoula, Montana - skip the turkey and go for elk and venison instead.

But if the idea of carving a deer at your table is a bit much, there are other ways to be green. To reduce waste, resist the temptation of holiday-themed paper plates. Use dishwasher-friendly plates instead, says Dale Bryk of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and don't waste water by rinsing every last bit of cranberry sauce off.

Ms. DALE BRYK (Natural Resources Defense Council): Even though your mother may have told you, like mine did, you got to wash all the plates before you put them in the dishwasher, that really is not necessary anymore. We have much better dishwashers than we did back in the '70s.

COHEN: Bryk says some of the most important choices you can make have to do with where you spend the holiday and how you get there.

Ms. BRYK: If you have to drive, one really important thing that people can do is make sure that they inflate their tires properly.

COHEN: That leads to better mileage.

Ms. BRYK: And there's actually more oil to save in our tires than exists in the whole entire Alaskan wildlife refuge, so it has a huge environmental benefit in addition to saving your money in your pocketbook.

COHEN: Then there are the roughly 27 million people expected to travel by plane over the Thanksgiving holiday. The average domestic flight uses about 100 gallons of gas per passenger.

Bryk says if you must travel by plane, think about taking nonstop flights. The fewer takeoffs and landings, the gentler the environmental impact.

You can also relieve a bit of greenhouse gas guilt by purchasing carbon offsets.

Ms. BRYK: Which is where you would invest in something that's reducing global warming pollution somewhere else that offsets the pushing you create in your flight. And there are a lot of people selling those carbon offsets now. And they're investing in things like forestry projects and capturing methane at landfills and that sort of thing.

COHEN: But, Bryk cautions, you may want to shop around a bit. For example, some carbon offsets support methane capture at large animal farms, and maybe you don't want your money going to such farms.

And speaking of spending, one final green tip for Thanksgiving. If you'd like to cut down on consumption, you can make the deliberate choice not to shop on the day after. This Friday marks the 15th year of a counterculture holiday known as Buy Nothing Day.

Alex Cohen, NPR News.

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